You’ve probably heard that you should have a budget. After all, a budget can help keep your spending in check and give every dollar a job.
While some swear by budgeting and can’t live without it, others (like me) are more like to swear at their budget.
I’ve tried the budgeting thing, in earnest. Time after time, I just felt frustrated by the process. Not only that, but quite frankly, I was just bored.
Being caught up in the minutiae of my daily expenditures felt like being on a diet where I counted every calorie, which quickly lost its luster.
Luckily, I’ve adopted a system that works for me and helps me continue to reach my financial goals. If you’re bored to tears with budgeting and just can’t make it work for you, here’s how to manage money wisely without a budget.
1. Know Your Income and Expenses
This first step may seem a bit deceptive as it’s also traditionally used when you create a budget. However, with or without a budget, it’s a good idea to know your income and expenses.
Knowing your income should be a fairly simple process. Simply look at your paystubs to see how much you are bringing home each month. If you’re a freelancer, it’s a little harder, but calculate and project your work from recurring clients and use this as your baseline.
It’s crucial that you know your income after taxes, deductions, etc. You may think you make $4,000 each month (and spending appropriately), but in actuality, perhaps you are only bringing home $3,200.
Once you know your income, take a look at your expenses. Add up your basic expenses like rent, groceries, car payment, student loans, etc. You can do this manually in a spreadsheet or use a tool like Mint for help.
Now, look at the numbers side by side. Do you spend less than you earn? If so, you’re in the clear for this step and ready to move on to Step 2. If you are spending more than you earn, then you should look for areas where you can cut back or find more affordable options.
While this first part may seem similar to starting a budget, it ends here. You don’t have to feel like you are forcing made up numbers into a specific category, then feeling relentless guilt that you went over these details.
The most important rule to follow when figuring out how to manage money wisely is to spend less than you earn.
2. Make Your Financial Goals a Priority
Using my system of non-budgeting, I pay my basic bills first, which include rent, healthcare, utilities and food. After that, I save 10 percent of all my income automatically, so I don’t even have to think about it.
What always frustrated me about budgeting was all the decisions I had to make. I don’t like to make decisions about every little thing and would rather spend my energy and time elsewhere. Therefore, I like to automate my budget as much as possible.
After accounting for my basic bills and savings, I put a large chunk of my remaining income to paying off my debt. Once I’ve covered all my financial bases, I don’t really worry about the rest. I spend as I please and don’t stress over my finances.
I spend on my values and have never once overdrafted my account. So, why does this form of non-budgeting work?
Because it puts your financial goals ahead of everything else. The main purpose of having a budget is to help you stay in line, in order to reach your financial goals. But you don’t actually need a detailed budget (gasp!) to do this.
If you automate your financial goals and cover your bases, who cares whether you spend $10 on coffee this week or $25.67 on going out next week?
3. Try These Three Things
Are you sick and tired of budgeting? Do you feel like you are failing miserably? Here are the three basic things you need to do to make non-budgeting work:
1. Automate your savings. To get started, you can save a percentage of your income for your emergency fund, short-term goals (like travel), and long-term goals like retirement. Automation works because it does all the hard work for you.
Let’s face it, we’re emotional creatures that are good at making excuses. Through automating your savings, you can eliminate any mental and emotional decisions and put your goals at the forefront of your life.
2. Spend mindfully. Just because you don’t have an official budget, doesn’t mean you give yourself free license to buy ALL THE THINGS. Spend on your values and know the difference between your needs and your wants. Be cautious with your spending, but not overly analytical.
3. Do regular check-ins. Some pro-budgeters may wonder how in the world you will ever keep a balanced bank account. But you’ll be able to get by just fine with some light, regular check-ins. Just check your bank account balance first thing in the morning. It takes all of 2 minutes and you’ll be set for the day.
As long as you monitor your bank account regularly to see how you are doing, you’ll be good. Something that may also help is to put bill due dates in your Google calendar and create reminders. This will help you not to worry about forgetting to pay your bills or wondering when a bill will come due.
These three steps can help you learn how to manage money wisely, without a budget. These steps essentially streamline the process for you, so that you can accomplish your goals, save for the future, pay your bills, and spend freely on the things you want, guilt-free — all without the burden of being buried in numbers.
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